J’ai arrive!

So I woke up on Saturday super early , 4 am because I got a Charlie horse in my left leg and I couldn’t sleep. The time zone jet lag was causing havoc. I decided to hop online to talk to my people while I still had Internet access not knowing if my host would have it or not. Next thing I knew it was 6 and I was staying up to Skype Thad who was still at dinner with his work group for another half hour. I was tired I could tell but too excited and nervous to sleep. Finally I skyped and then took another nap until my alarm went off at 9:20.

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Then I took another shower and got water all over the floor. By then it was only a few minutes and breakfast arrived. I happily ate it though i wasn’t hungry and then packed up my stuff and headed down to checkout. From there I took the shuttle to the airport to meet an IAU representative at 11. Only I didn’t know where to meet them.
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So after 10 minutes of walking around I decided they weren’t there and that if they didn’t arrive in half an hour that I was going to go and call them. But then while I was standing there an older lady on the phone saw me and came over and started telling me she was from the college and stuff and that Madame Raibaud (my host) was so sad that I didn’t come stay with her for last night and that her son in law was going to come get me but that fell through so she was putting me on the bus to Aix and paying my ticket. She rushed me on and told me not to get off until I stopped twice paid my ticket and ran away.
So I sat on the bus while we drove out of Marseille looking like a total tourist as I took a bunch of pictures. But whatever. We stopped and I didn’t get off. And then once we got to Aix I wasn’t sure whether this was really my stop because I wanted to be totally sure.
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 The driver said it was so I hopped out and saw an older woman and a little ginger boy holding a sign with my name! We got my stuff out of the bus and Madame insisted on carrying one of my bags. Ginger headed Paul tried to help but was discouraged that my duffel was heavy but was delighted to find that my suitcase with four wheels could be pushed around. Once he got tired of that Madame and I both pushed it around stopping to lift it out of little storm drains or holes in the ground. Madame pointed out budings to me as we walked about 15 minutes to her house. It was also really hot and my vocal cords were starting to act up from carrying this heavy suit case up hills.
Once we turned onto Rue novembre Paul ran ahead to a man that I learned was Jean-Claude who is Paul’s dad and Madame’s son in law. But not because I guess they aren’t really married yet but they say they will be. He speaks some English so he started asking me how my trip was. We spoke English a bit and then Paul got mad so we switched back to French. Paul is probably like 7 or 8? They call him “Paul the Terrible” because he is a free spirit.
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When we finished lugging my suitcase to the third floor (Paul, Jean-Claude and Madame’s daughter live below us) Madame insisted that we eat. Which as really not high on my want to do list since my stomach already wasn’t handling eating breakfast well. I begrudgingly said sure. We talked while she made lunch.
She asked me what I wanted to drink and I said whatever she had was fine. Then when she came and set the table she put a one liter bottle of absolute vodka on the table. And my bought was “ohhhh no this lady goes hard I do not want to do this.” And then she says ” it’s water” and I felt so much better!!! But I was still apprehensive drinking it! :-)

She asked about what I like and don’t like. Then made me lunch which was tomatoes and mozerella, salad; and an avocado. Not wanting to be rude I tried to eat it even though I a) wasn’t hungry b) don’t want to be picky but I really can’t stomach tomatoes well at all. Avocados either but it is easier to chew those and not taste them than it is a tomato. So after trying to eat them and getting most of the avocado down I had two bites of tomato and my tag reflex kicked in and sold me out… I literally almost threw up… Which made me feel really bad because I was trying to be good about it. But she told me I didn’t have to eat it so I didn’t. I told her my stomach wasn’t adjusting very well and I wasn’t very hungry. She sort of understood. Then we went back into town and walked around. She showed me some buildings like the office de tourisme and the marie which is like the town courthouse. We also passed by a church that was super pretty and old looking and of course a lot of fountains.

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We stopped at the monoprix which is like the only supermarket place in town, otherwise everything oh buy comes from a store that is specific to a type of product. There I bought soap and face wash, lotion, an adapter for euro plugs and toothpaste. We had to go to a pharmacy to get contact solution. After walking around we came back and I was so tired that I took a nap for 3 hours. Oops…
After that we had dinner which a was pasta with stuff in it. Really specific I know but I dunno what it was perhaps spinach stuff? Again I wasn’t very hungry and she told me that if I didn’t eat more I would come back skinny and my mother would say that I was never fed! After every meal she offers me fruit or cheese or something but I am always so full. But it is nice here.
After dinner we watched a really cool game show that I can only compare to the end part of Legends of the Hidden Temple but harder and one room at a time. The concept is that there is this big castle and the wizard has a treasure so you have to collect keys to unlock it by winning them doing all these crazy things in each room. It was really cool. And had no commercials for two hours! What! I wish American game who’s were like that. Anyways at the end they won 18k € which all go to charity so it is pretty cool.
After that we went to bed and I figured out how to get Internet for my iPod. So now I have communication again! My room:

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Faby’s Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Fabiola but I usually go by Faby. I was born in a town in Guanajuato Mexico and at the age of three my family immigrated to Oregon. Since then, I have been living my whole live in the Salem area. I am the third child of my family and a first generation student. As a child I played soccer, basketball, and was in track. Also, I have been in band, orchestra, and theatre. I am currently a part of an Aztec dancing group where I have gotten the opportunity to know more about my culture in Mexico.

I graduated from McKay High School in June of 2010. At Mckay I took several French classes which lead me to going on a three week trip to France. Being in France I learned a lot of valuable things such as being independent, knowing how to communicate with my own group of people and others, and most importantly, I was able to improve my language by practicing and hearing it constantly while I was at a family stay for ten days. That was actually one of the reason why I decided to do an internship in France. I initially wanted to do a study abroad program but that didn’t work out so I decided to instead to an Internship. The internship is at the Office of International Relations at the University of Poitiers. Poitiers is a semi small city south of Paris. The other reason is because I just wanted to know how it felt to live in a different country and experience a completely different culture from my Mexican-American culture. Since I said that I had previously been here, I already knew how it was over here before I left. So a lot of what I will be experiencing wont be knew to me. Culture shock should not be that big of a problem.

I am now a senior at Western Oregon University in the process of completing a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (CJ) and a minor in French. So, If everything goes well, I should be graduating this following spring. I am very happy to almost be done but at the same I can’t see my life not going to school. I am definitely interested in continuing to get my masters degree or to get into Law school.

My internship actually started this Monday but I wasn’t able to start the blogs earlier because there were a lot of other things I had to do for the internship that I almost forgot about the blogs. Since my computer was stolen I have no pictures of the last time I was here in France if not I would have posted them as well.

Well, I hope everybody is getting the most out of their stays abroad. Bonne chance a tous!

Allons-y!

 

Image from: http://old.unit5.org/northpointimc/IMC/France%20Webquest/Images/francemap.png

I’m getting ready to leave for my term abroad on Thursday this week, and I have to say that I can’t help but be nervous. I have heard a lot of things about the French that both are exciting to me and a little scary.

Image from: http://resources.touropia.com/gfx/w/france.jpg

I am very nervous to leave because I have fears that my fluency level is not high enough to really be able to express myself in French. I know that many people at my college will be able to speak English but I am scared of not being able to articulate myself. I know that this is a normal fear for most foreign language students but I can’t help but feel a bit nervous. I’m excited to be going to a less touristy part of France to do my semester. Aix is much smaller than Paris and I think that because of that I will be more accepted as a foreigner than I might be in a larger city like Paris or Lyon. I hope that because it is a bit more remote that I will be able to assimilate faster and easier into the culture.

Image from: http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/64/6415/TZK9100Z/posters/peter-richardson-fruit-and-vegetable-market-aix-en-provence-bouches-du-rhone-provence-france-europe.jpg

One of the things I am most excited about is the open markets that happen during certain days of the week. These markets sound to be a great way to get fresh and local produce from farmers in the area. I really enjoy supporting those that produce things close to where I live in Oregon, and I am excited to be able to do the same in France. In addition to food, there are also flower markets. I hope that I will be arriving in a time that flowers will still be around and in season. I think that going to a French flower market would be really beautiful and I would love to be able to experience the smells of all the flowers and to see all the colors together.

Image from: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Rm2txOLw0ng/UaTdmEktqVI/AAAAAAAACec/fU0DrzR-w7o/s1600/french+wines.jpg

I have also heard that the French drink a lot of wine and mineral water. I am not a very big fan of either, but I would like to be able to go there and experience them as any French person would. While I am not twenty-one yet, alcohol is not illegal for me in France. I have heard that because of this when a lot of students go abroad they have a tendency to go crazy and drink a lot. I really don’t want to follow suit in this. While I think that I will indulge in wine at dinner or the like as with the normal French customs I don’t want to be drinking all the time nor do I want that to be the goal of my trip. I hope to enjoy the customs and culture as it is.

Image from: http://recipe-finder.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/mineral2.jpg

It is to my understanding that most drinks don’t come with ice in Europe. I know for some of my friends that use ice constantly in their drinks this would be a problem. But I don’t usually tend to put ice in my beverages. So I think that I will be okay with this custom.

Image from: http://www.newhorizonsforchildren.org/nhfc/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Luggage-Stuffed-Suitcase-XSmall.jpg

As far as getting ready to leave I haven’t started packing yet. I leave in four days and mostly I have just been making piles of things that I think I want to bring which I am sure will be twice as much as what I really will bring. I have been buying a few last minute things recently. I went on a mission to find a boring black purse that will be boring enough to not tempt anyone to mug me.  I think I have a small fear of that happening. Today a friend of mine bought me luggage tags as a going away gift. I still feel like there are so many things that I have to get done even though my to do list is dwindling.

The past few days I have been almost apathetic about leaving. I haven’t been excited or nervous but rather “whatever” about the whole thing. It hasn’t been until today when I started cleaning and putting some personal things in boxes in my bedroom that I am beginning to feel sad to leave my friends and family. I had a small party with my friends last night as a way to see everyone before going away. It was hard to say goodbye to them and also many of my family members the last couple days. I know that I have a lot of support to leave but it doesn’t make it any easier to know that I won’t see them for quite a while.

Image from: http://i.istockimg.com/file_thumbview_approve/5853965/2/stock-illustration-5853965-question-mark.jpg

I am also nervous that I haven’t gotten any information about my host family other than their address and an email. I sent them a letter about myself a week ago and haven’t gotten a response back yet. I was hoping to know if I was staying with a family with brothers and sisters or just the single woman whose name I was given. So it has been a little disheartening to wake up every morning to check my email and find nothing… I know it will not be a big deal once I am there but I think I would feel better if I knew a little bit more about the situation I was walking flying into.

I am happy to be going and I don’t want to make it sound like I am not excited, but I can’t say that I am not going to be sad to leave my family and friends. It does help to know that I have support for this trip, and that if I need anything there are people I could Skype call.

Overall, I have some last minute things to do… like pack. But I know that when the time comes to get on the plane on Thursday I will be ready and excited to start my life changing experience!

 

Pourquoi Pas?

Jean!

Jean!

We have a sort of motto with our host dad, Jean (John). Almost our version of “yolo”. Sometimes when there is a little left over red wine after dinner, he suggests we save it for breakfast, pourquoi pas (why not?). When the toilet stopped flushing, he told us we’d have to pee in the garden, pourquoi pas? Or when Carina would (notoriously) mix two random foods together, Jean would look at her, then us and say, pourquoi pas? And so on. I felt that it was a fitting title because this blog includes a recap of a lot of school induced drinking, the weirdest Thanksgiving of my life, and transportation mishaps; a lot of things abroad adventure, might as well smile about it. Pourquoi pas, why not?

On Friday November 16th, some of our group got out of class early to go on a field trip together to the local Cointreau distillery. Our noisy, American group clambered onto bus 2 and headed out to take our tour.

The group!

The group!

The orange-y tasting liquor originated and is produced in Angers (but is now world famous.

In the distillery

In the distillery

We learned a lot about the production and advertising techniques and once we were well informed, it was time to taste it! We were sat down in a fancy room with glasses and macaroons and instructed to sip the clear, room temperature liquid. Yup, orange-y like the peels we had smelled earlier in the day and strong. The next step was to add ice and watch it turn a foggy opaque color and get a lot sweeter. Finally, we were given Cointreaufizzes; more cups of iced cointreau, bowls of spices and fruit to add to it and recipe suggestions.

Sante!

Sante!

This is the part when they open the gift shop. So naturally buying bottles of cointreau sounded like a fantastic idea to all of us! Pourquoi pas?

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The following day was another excursion, this time with others from our classes and such. For once, we got to sleep in and have a leisurely morning getting ready. Our host dad drove us into town and Maddy and I walked through the market, got some snacks and headed to the bus. I had been on this excursion before in September but I’ll briefly describe it again/copy and paste. First we toured the Troglodyte sites, their homes and farms (if interested, read the “In France” section: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitat_troglodytique). It was interesting to learn about how these people used to live in caves and why, while seeing first hand their bedrooms and farming equipment!

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This tour was followed by a tour of a winery, where we had a classy tasting of three different local wines.

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This time, I bought two bottles and two glasses. And finally, an underground dinner in a cave restaurant! Here we got another more wine and bottomless bread that we could watch them roll, bake and serve! The meal consisted of local mushrooms. Les champignons. And more mushrooms. Mushy mushrooms, chopped up mushrooms, full size mushrooms, brown mushrooms, and other mushrooms.  Dad, and others that know the smell of sautéed mushrooms is enough to make me gag, I’d like you to know that I tasted some again! I’m really trying here. As I stated last time I wrote about this “I was under the influence of peer pressure, wine and my adventurous Europe spirit.” I’m sorry to report that even the second time I didn’t enjoy it one bit and proceeded to consume only bread and the wonderful, mushroom free white beans provided. I had been looking forward to these beans since September and was not let down. There were several more courses as usual and I was stuffed and happy. Good conversation was had and overall this second trip with my closer friends, exploring the historical sites, was more enjoyable than the first time.

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Thanksgiving

Was weird. So perhaps “Tanksgiving” (as the French call it) is a better way to describe this year’s November holiday. My study abroad organization – AHA, and the Notre Dame program organized a meal and celebration for American students and their host families. Our director is organized and asked the Fall students to bring canned pumpkin pie filling from America because if you ask the French for anything pumpkin, they’ll look at you like you ordered canned grandma. So, for those that brought filling, it was time to bake pies. Many got burnt in host family ovens but the pies were cute nonetheless.

For several weeks there had been coloring supplies in our office and each finished picture got hung in L’Université dining hall where we had dinner.

Our decorations hung around the room.

Our decorations hung around the room.

Dinner. Interesting. So we gathered with our families and found our assigned seating (I was with my roommates, host parents and another family) and awaited the meal.

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Host mom centerHost dad left

Host mom center
Host dad left

First there were a few speeches and prayers in different languages and a sentimental slide show of pictures. Now, this may have been organized for Americans to celebrate an American holiday, but the cooks were still French. So we had our courses as usual beginning with champagne. Except that I didn’t have a champagne glass for some reason. We asked twice and eventually it came. Course number one was a platter of French canapés. These were tasty, but also mysterious, itty bitty and not a typical Thanksgiving food.

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The second course was Pumpkin soup with soggy croutons. Picky me doesn’t like pumpkin things (which upsets people, I know) and so it was amusing to watch the French taste the soup and not be sure what to make of it. My host mom however straight up admitted to finding it “bizarre”.  The following course was a bit more like my home thanksgiving including mashed potatoes and vegetables. There was also cranberry sauce but only enough for us each to have less than a spoon full. And turkey. Each table got two trays of turkey. Except ours. Which meant we were short turkey and I didn’t get any. Thanksgiving with no turkey?! I was continuing to get more homesick.

FIghting over the last piece that was left for 4 people...

My roommates fighting over the last piece that was left for 4 people…

I was having a great time laughing and chatting with the girls around me, but it just didn’t feel right. But before you feel too sorry for me, someone did find me a piece of turkey and I cleaned up my attitude, after all, I’m in France. This is the only Thanksgiving I will ever have like this and I’ll remember it forever. Ok, maybe the second glass of wine and lemon meringue pie helped in this change of heart. I do really appreciate all the hard work that went into this dinner and it wasn’t as miserable as I make it out to be considering some Americans didn’t get to celebrate at all. I was fed and in good company and all I had to do to earn that was color a paper turkey. After dessert the Notre Dame students provided some dance and song entertainment as well as one of our professors playing her ukulele.

At the end of the night I got to go home and Skype my whole family which made the whole day a million times better. The conversation ended with promise of my favorite, missed dishes for Christmas.
And I forgot to mention earlier that day, I had had class, which was very very weird. But for lunch I finally tired a Nutella Panini! Pourquoi pas?! And yes, it was as deliciously disgusting as you’d think.

Weekend

Thanksgiving started off several days of fun. On Friday I went with my roommate and some friends for the second time to Le Foire St. Martin (a fair – food and rides) on the river side. The rides were really overpriced but we did a few and they were exhilarating! It was fun to do something new as a way to hang out in town!

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Saturday was busy because after sleeping in, I only had a few hours to do homework and prepare for the evening. Carina and I were meeting up with Erin (Ireland team together again!) to go to Moscow Theater Ballet’s production of Swan Lake! Erin doesn’t have a cell phone and we had a big miscommunication resulting in Erin staying home and missing the show. This was tragic as she had paid for her ticket and we missed her company! But the show was phenomenal. The theater was strangely set up and not top notch, but we had decent seats.

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After the show, Carina and I bustled out because we were trying to get to another event. The lobby cleared out almost instantly and we were left to figure out how to get to the next part of town since busses had stopped. While on the phone with the taxi a man came up and asked if we needed a ride. He led us through the empty building, through doors, past the back of the bleachers, down halls and making us more and more uncomfortable. The only reason I continued to follow was the radio on his belt and what looked like a name/title on his shirt. Finally, and still alive, we reached a back room where there was a security guard. The man we’d followed handed us the phone number for the taxi. What?! We have that! From here there was more wandering around and more miscommunications and more misunderstandings and overall a lot of wasted time and frustration. Eventually we got the taxi ordered and were sent to stand outside at the edge of the property. It was deserted. And very cold and very very windy. Every little noise made us jump and look around. We weren’t even sure if we were standing in the right place. Time was ticking and so were our hearts. We were probably overwhelmingly relieved when our cab showed up and we were on our way.

After so much ordeal, we arrived at the Fest Noz. This was for class credit for me and several other students and just for fun for others. A Fest Noz is a typical Breton festival with music, dance and crepes (I wrote a paper on it if you really want to know more). It was a relief to see the other AHA folks and be inside. Since we were so late, I didn’t get to learn and dance much, but the steps were quite simple and the patterns not too complex. The people were nice and helpful and the traditional and cheerful atmosphere was contagious.

To top it off….we left in time to catch the last bus. When the bus came, it had a different number on it so we didn’t get on. Well, no other busses came. After our professor had called enough taxis to get us all to our various destinations, I jokingly recommended we hitchhike (it had been successful before, right?). Well one of my friends, playing along with the joke, stuck her thumb out and whadaya know? Someone stopped and took her, the professor and two other students into town! The rest of us still took taxis but I was rather stunned that the joke worked after the rest of the transportation issues we’d had that day!

I don’t even remember what I did that Sunday. Most likely rested and did homework in my pajamas with my roommate. Pourqoui pas?

So maybe the moral of all that is to seize the day or carpe diem! Ya know, something inspirational like that.

My host mom and I! :)

My host mom and I! :)

Emily

Touching Ireland

Warning: Longest blog in the history of forever. Not particularly for assignment purposes. This is for those of you that wanted to hear about my vacation to Ireland with a LOT of pictures!

Pack and plan and part!

As if I hadn’t worn them enough, I put on my big girl panties under my patience pants and planned a vacation.

The e-mail with our WHOLE plan!

The e-mail with our WHOLE plan!

Ok, I didn’t do it all on my own, but this was the closest to “in charge” of a trip this big I’ve ever been. Weeks of an underlying stress trying to make decisions, navigate French computers, coordinate with friends and pay big amounts of money for reservations–all while going to school from 9-5. But now it’s time to go! We had a minor panic having not printed tickets, but our wonderful host dad helped us (changing the printer ink and all!) at 10pm the night before.  I’m super excited and super hoping I don’t forget French while we’re gone!

Carina organizing all of our paper work on the first leg - the train to Paris

Carina organizing all of our paper work on the first leg – the train to Paris

Carina and I got up and organized, grabbed breakfast and met up with Erin. We discussed how none of us had really traveled on our own with just friends before. This thought combined with day one of our adventure led to the inability to sit still or suppress squeals of excitement at random moments.

Erin and I squealing with excitement on the train!

Erin and I squealing with excitement on the train!

It’s a good feeling though, the previous day was sad. Last day of September classes was just a party. My perfectly French professor brought a typical, homemade French dessert to share and we watched a French comedy.

My prof and classmates!

My prof and classmates!

Shortly after, we had to bid farewell to Brittany who was going back to the States for school.  I was really sad.

Goodbye!

Goodbye!

It was weird without her, I hadn’t known Angers without Brittany for more than a few loney hours, and I’d grown to really enjoy her company and looked forward to chatting about our day each evening. I can just hope our new roommate is just as fun because for now “our trio’s down to twoooo!”.

Our trio....

Our trio….

...down to twoooo!

…down to twoooo!

That evening held last minute packing and “Le Soiree International” in which each country performed something that represented their culture and it was a good closure to the month. There will be lots of changes come October and a nice long break in the mean time!

Our trip to Dublin, was success after success. Well kind of. We arrived in Dublin smoothly and as planned, but after that, things got a little messy. I am SO proud of us for navigating 12 or so connections with no major mess ups! As they say in France “Youpiii!”
Summary:
Walk to tram(8am). Tram to train station. Train to Paris. Take the Metro. Take another subway. Walk to bus stop (*buy a crepe from crazy man wanting to practice English).   Bus to airport.

Out the front window of the bus on the way to the airport!

Out the front window of the bus on the way to the airport!

Fly to Dublin.

Squealing in excitement on the plane!

Squealing in excitement on the plane!

Talk with helpful woman at info desk (who speaks English!) about options and make plan.

Our first encounter with how nice the Irish are!

Our first encounter with how nice the Irish are!

Bus to train station.

Upstairs of the bus! I felt like I was driving! (Good thing I wasn't)

Upstairs of the bus! I felt like I was driving! (Good thing I wasn’t)

Run. Miss train by 2 MINUTES. No more trains. Wait what? Can’t get to Ennis (town with hostel reservation) until tomorrow…………Bother info guy a lot. Find train to nearby town. Wait and get free food. Take train to random connection.

And the snack trolley went by....I wanted to offer to "take the lot!" but I had no gold galleons.

And the snack trolley went by….I wanted to offer to “take the lot!” but I had no gold galleons.

Take another train and arrive in Limerick. Talk to security man about busses. Assured that there will be one soon. Wait at bus stop. Security man says never mind, no more busses tonight. Panic. Told again there is a bus in about 2 hours (at 11:30pm). Go to local old person bar, play cards and have hot drink.Wait in rain at bus stop (and do ballet to stay warm) and get questioned about the reliability of our information. Bus comes – cheer! Dumped off in Shannon. Wait some more. Another bus comes and takes us to Ennis. Very nice driver drops us off at Hostel. Nice hostel desk person still there to check us in at about 1am. SLEEP.

Great Hostel experience number 1

Great Hostel experience number 1

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Hehe.

Hehe. “Ireland. Waiting for a bus”

“What you’re leaving behind – your footprints. What you’re taking with you- your memories.” – Frank the tour guide. (And probably someone famous originally).

The next day, as if nothing had happened, we got up and had breakfast and bought some local candy while crossing our fingers that the tour bus pick up time according to the hostel front desk and different from the e-mail, was correct. It was! From here on out, this was my favorite day. I think I spend most of the bus ride hovering 2 inches above the seat because I was so excited, sitting was literally impossible.  I clung to every fun fact the driver told us and tried not to blink as I looked out the window. If it’s not clear yet how happy I was, my cheeks were already sore from smiling.

Proof.

Proof.

On our way to the first stop, I learned that Ennis is a really great place to do genealogy research. We also stopped at a castle (well I guess it was just a powerful woman’s house) that was built half in 1480 and added on to in 16 something. It has since decayed a bit and the crows flying around seemed fitting for photos.

You can't really see the crows...

You can’t really see the crows…

If you look close you can see a cross in the wall that was build in the 11th century!

If you look close you can see a cross in the wall that was build in the 11th century!

Moving on, we came to a bizarre rocky landscape where we hopped around and looked at plants growing between rocks and gazed upon a strange old tomb.

This is where we used some of the pent up energy and bounced around.

This is where we used some of the pent up energy and bounced around.

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Just as it began to pour rain, we got back on the bus to go have a hot meal on the bay. I enjoyed some bangers and mash- kids’ portion-and barely finished it.

YUM.

YUM.

And this was the view!

And this was the view!

Next stop was a little farm where I had some soda bread and we could chose which activity to do. We decided to go to the presentation about herding sheep to see the dogs in action!

Action shot.

Action shot.

This was fitting considering there are about 4.5 million people that populate Ireland and there are about 4.8 million sheep. The dogs are incredibly smart. They know their own whistle sound and what to do on each signal. I was thoroughly impressed.

(Swap that actually, sorry, sheep dogs came before the lunch stop.)

Back in the warmth of the bus, we drove past the most beautiful coast line I’ve ever seen. As a treat, our guide pulled over and let us stretch our legs at a part of the cliff that was accessible. It was absolutely incredible. We each had an adrenaline rush as we dangled our feet over the crashing waves so far below.  It was wonderful to be able to go all the way to the edge even though it felt like the wind would blow us right over. Nature is cool.

Amazing. After standing in the wind I dangled my feet over the depths below. And yes, it was a little unsettling.

Amazing. After standing in the wind I dangled my feet over the depths below. And yes, it was a little unsettling.

The finals stop was the actual Cliffs of Moher, the edge of the world.

I still don't believe I took these pictures.

I still don’t believe I took these pictures.

I’m convinced that the air here was spiked or something because we were giddy. I’m not sure I successfully shut my mouth the entire time I stared out at the steep jagged shore. Because this was a tourist location and a national pride, there were walls up for our safety which made me more thankful we had pulled over and had a raw experience before. At the hobbit hole visitor center we watched a huge video and read about the history and formation.

Hobbits right?

Hobbits right?

The sun wasn’t at the best height for pictures at the time we were here, so I bought a post card.

This was my permanent face.

This was my permanent face.

I wish I knew how to post the videos I took.

I wish I knew how to post the videos I took.

The evening was as perfect as the day. We found a pub with live music and a chatty local that was easily amused. Then we went to another quiet pub with a live traditional band and a friendly musician.

The musicians!

The musicians!

Here the police are called the Garda. Garda Síochána na hÉireann, Irish for “Guardians of the Peace of Ireland”. Isn’t that just perfectly Irish?

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This is at a construction site. More proof of how nice the Irish are.

This is at a construction site. More proof of how nice the Irish are.

Though we could have stayed in Ennis longer, we had big plans ahead and caught a bus early the next morning to get to Dingle peninsula by afternoon. We didn’t know Ireland could get better.

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Difficult to photograph from the bus!

Difficult to photograph from the bus!

There were more than 40 shades of green covering the rolling hills and a full, double rainbow to greet us. A double rainbow in Ireland!

You can kind of see it in this picture. I'm not sure where my better picture is.

You can kind of see it in this picture. I’m not sure where my better picture is.

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We almost stopped the bus to search for gold. Alas, this was not a possibility because we had an appointment to go horseback riding. We quickly checked into the hostel and asked for directions to the ranch. Not only did we get directions, but a ride! The hostel owner was leaving shortly to go to his mother’s house for dinner and our next stop was between here and there. We had limited time and appreciated this gesture greatly. Instead of rushing out and walking, we got to have a cup of coffee and ride in a car driving on the opposite side of the road!!!

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Our room!

Our room!

Its backwards....I was SO excited to ride in an Irish car!

Its backwards….I was SO excited to ride in an Irish car!

The actual ride itself seems like a dream. I’m not sure how many times I asked the others to pinch me. The three of us got a private half hour lesson “Irish style” (we learned that what we know of as English saddle is actually originally Irish) and then he took us up the trail, past the house Snow Patrol recorded their first album in, and then to the tip of the peninsula in the raging wind by a tiny ancient stone wall. And then we just sat there, our horses munching happily, listening to fun facts from our guide and observing the dark spots in the ocean that were plankton. We stared at the tides and clouds and blinked a bit to make sure it didn’t all disappear. I think I experienced a slice of heaven.

Getting to know our horses.

Getting to know our horses.

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On the way up the hill

On the way up the hill

Almost to the top...so lucky.

Almost to the top…so lucky.

The ancient wall

The ancient wall at the top!

Our guide and the dark spots.

Our guide and the dark spots.

Snow Patrol's house!

Snow Patrol’s house!

Thanking our horses at the end.

Thanking our horses at the end.

Having no return ride, we walked off our saddle seat and ate blackberries from the side of the road for the whole 45 minutes back to town.
Cold, tired and hungry, we showered and, again, sought live music in a bar.

The musician.

The musician.

Plus, we had gotten a discount on our horse ride so we could “buy a pint tonight!”.

So it was kind of free?

So it was kind of free?

I had a conversation with the bartender that made me question whether we really were speaking the same language. I wanted to order off the kids menu and asked permission to do that, because I didn’t know the norm there. He looked at me as if I were crazy and said it was up to me. So I proceeded and asked what kind of “beans” came on the dish I was interested in. His response, “normal beans”. Normal beans? Uh-huh and what kind of beans are normal? “What color are they?” I asked. “The normal color”. “Great, so like white beans? Green beans? Refried beans?”I was trying to be helpful. Him; “Nooo, no they aren’t white or green, just the normal cooked ones that have ketchup on them”. Ketchup?! “Ok, sure, I’ll have that dish.” And then he walked away without taking my money. So we sat down and anticipated my “normal” beans with baited breath. But I won’t keep you in suspense, they were just your average baked beans, common at Christmas dinners, potlucks or BBQs. And no, they didn’t taste ketchup-y in the slightest.
Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of this.

Esplorin’

We had the morning to kill before departing for the next town. We really wanted to Kayak in the sea caves with the dolphin, but aside from being expensive, we didn’t find out about it in time.

Or swimming with it!

Or swimming with it!

Instead, we went exploring. Someone had recommended the light house to us, so that’s where we went! Turned out to be a tromp through the grass, clovers and mud, against the wind, but the view made every second worth it.

Soo much mud!

Soo much mud!

Clovers!

Clovers!

We happened upon a strange old stone tower and did the most natural thing in response. Climbed it and pretended to be Rapunzel.

And then I brush and brush and brush and brush my hair!

And then I brush and brush and brush and brush my hair!

"Wondering when will my life begin!"

“Wondering when will my life begin!”

The light house was anticlimactic but the view was not.The deep blue waves in the wind and crashing against dark stone created what the Irish refer to as “white horses”. I think we realized at that point, that were feeling really tired simply from feeling so happy all the time.

Light house

Light house

View

View

View with some white horses and travel buddies.

View with some white horses and travel buddies.

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We got to have a lazy afternoon going from Dingle to Cork. We each had our own seat on the bus and spaced out for a while. The hostel in Cork wasn’t far from the train station and it was combined with a bar. After checking in and getting info for the following day we were able to enjoy a rotating program of live musicians.
My alarm clock worked as planned and we took a bus to the famous Blarney Castle.

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Since I don’t need any help when it comes to the number of words I use each day (as evidenced by this blog), we decided to attempt to get the gift of French gab and spoke in French all morning. I guess it was convincing considering the woman at the ticket desk asked if we needed the brochure in a different language. Shortly after, another tourist asked if we could take a picture of her “s’il vous plait”.
The castle itself was cool, of course. I like the castles that are sort of in ruins because they seem more realistic to me. Another great thing was that the info signs were in English, not just English but also clever, witty and interesting to read too.

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Kissing the Blarney Stone at the top was not what I expected. We had to lie down and hang upside down and over all it was rather strange. But, I’m glad to say I partook.

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Now, if the castle was neat, the grounds were incredible! There was a cave to crawl in (where we met another American)

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and a poisonous garden (where I learned a ton about powerful plants!).

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Looking down the garden toward the castle.

Looking down the garden toward the castle.

We spent the entire afternoon wandering around through the enchanted forest, through giant ferns, past mystical waterfalls and trespassing on the territory of ancient druids and witches.
After a hot meal and some gift store browsing, we returned to the hostel, made dinner, explored town a bit and went to bed!

Everything about this place was mystical.

Everything about this place was mystical.

Magical fountain

Magical fountain

We felt like dinosaurs walking through here!

We felt like dinosaurs walking through here!

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We all did this...just in case!

We all did this…just in case!

Other side of the falls

Other side of the falls

Ferns!

Ferns!

Free dinner!

Free dinner!

Evening walk

Evening walk

Marissa J. Thompson

And I, were about to be reunited. I’ve been missing my WOU roommate almost every other second since I left the States, I’m not sure we’ve ever gone this long without seeing each other. Heading back to the capital of Ireland meant seeing her face.
We arrived ahead of her and had time to explore town a bit, accidentally finding popular tourist attractions. But I was distracted by my excitement and when Marissa finally walked through the door I made a scene of running across the lobby to give her a hug.
Happily, we chatted (about random things since too much time had passed to “catch up”) and munched on an unidentifiable type of cuisine before, of course, finding live music, this time with live Irish dancing and some local Jamison!

Reunited :D

Reunited :D

The room we shared with three nice strangers

The room we shared with three nice strangers

The perfect opportunity presented itself for college students at the end of a vacation. A FREE 3 hour walking tour of Dublin led by a local college student! He was a fantastic guide with the perfect mix of factual history and entertaining nuggets or stories. At the end we gave him tips to support his studies and say thank you for the day.  The tour started with a visit to an old important building that President Obama and  Queen Elizabeth had recently been hosted in.

He pointed out that the statue has her back to the public. There was an explanation about the significance of this, but I forgot.

He pointed out that the statue has her back to the public. There was an explanation about the significance of this, but I forgot.

We were lead through Temple Bar and past the memorial of the potato famine, around some churches and through Trinity College. I wish I had taken notes on some of the crazy things we learned about and took pictures of.

The horrifying famine memorial behind out wonderful guide.

The horrifying famine memorial behind out wonderful guide.

Trinity College! (future grad school?)

Trinity College! (future grad school?)

The 4 of us! A little chilly but so happy!

The 4 of us! A little chilly but so happy!

Another example of the Irish people.

Another example of the Irish people.

A church with a unique history.

A church with a unique history.

We later returned to Trinity and had to pay an absurd amount of money to get a glance at the famous book of Kells and walk through the Jedi library. (no photos allowed) This visit was cut rather short as we were running out of time and still wanted to visit the Guinness factory before closing. After asking directions from a nice group of people from Denmark and getting told about the oldest pub in Ireland, we arrived just in time. Unfortunately, we were rushed to the top floor to consume our complimentary pint in the sky bar. I didn’t get to learn as much about the beer or get certified to “pull our own” as we had wanted but at least we found out how to “enjoy beer with all 5 senses” and that the water used comes from the mountains we planned to visit the next day.

They left little shamrock designs in the foam on top!

They left little shamrock designs in the foam on top!

Marissa and I with my pints of Guinness in the Sky Bar! (That's a joke...because she didn't drink much of hers so I helped. I think this is the part where my Dad debates whether or not he is proud!)

Marissa and I with my pints of Guinness in the Sky Bar! (That’s a joke…because she didn’t drink much of hers so I helped. I think this is the part where my Dad debates whether or not he is proud!)

Exhausted from walking all day long we needed some dinner and chocolate milk to keep us going for the last event on our agenda. The Leprechaun museum had an after hours, adult’s only, scary event. We signed our lives away and entered into a room with humongous furniture.

As described, signing my name.

As described, signing my name.

That is 4 of us in one arm chair that took some scrambling to get into!

That is 4 of us in one arm chair that took some scrambling to get into!

Basically there were actors leading us through the museum and telling stories based on old folklore. It wasn’t quite what we expected but interesting anyway.
Needless to say, we slept well that night. It had been a long, long day!

The next day included a full day tour away from Dublin. Having just toured the Guinness factory, I was excited to go to the Wicklow Mountains, the famous beer’s water source. Upon arrival I decided I didn’t want to leave. It was beautiful .

Couldn't look away from this view!

Couldn’t look away from this view!

The tour led us on a little hike through green and more green stopping at some old ruins and ending in an old Monastery.

Green

Green

more green

more green

and more green!

and more green!

And the graveyard.

And the graveyard.

The cool, signature round tour.

The cool, signature round tour.

The Monastery

The Monastery

It was wonderful to have all of the information and history provided as we went, but I didn’t enjoy being in such a big group. It was hard to hear, and we had limited time resulting in a bit of herding.
After spending a moment in the cemetery and admiring the roundness of the lookout tower symbolic of these old towns we bused on over the mountains and through the woods to grandmother’s town of Kilkenny. Well, perhaps, if your grandmother was a witch in the 1700’s. This medieval area had many great stories and evidence of life so long ago. The highlight for me was a restaurant we chose to eat at.  The restaurant was the home of Dame Alice Kyteler who was the earliest person condemned for witchcraft in Ireland. She managed to flee the country but her servant was flogged and burned at the stake in 1324.

Erin and the inside

Erin and the inside

Outside

Outside

The restaurant

The restaurant

And as if it wasn’t interesting enough with the coziest of decorations, only two things made it better. The deliciousness of the food, including a type of sauce I’d never seen before and this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarina's soup.

The end of that day was sad. It meant that my time in Ireland was up and my time with Marissa was over for now. We packed our belongings and printed our “free drink” voucher for the hostel bar (which was a lot more difficult than it should have been). We shared a beer and said goodbyes. I had lost myself in a world of leprechauns and rainbows for a full eight days. I could not have had a more amazing time in the green beauty of Ireland! Erin and Carina, thanks for being great travel buddies and Marissa, thanks for making the effort to meet us in Dublin! I dream of living in the west and marrying a cute young man with an accent and horses. Then we can wear local wool sweaters and tromp through the mud on the cliffs or kayak in the sea caves with the dolphin. In the mean time, I suppose I need to start learning Gaelic.

The candy shop we went to in Dublin. 3 times.

The candy shop we went to in Dublin. 3 times.

The castle we visited on the last day.

The castle we visited on the last day.

To get to the airport in time for our flight we had to get up at 4am. So I set my alarm clock that had worked all week. Now that I have said that, you know what happened. It didn’t go off. Thank goodness Marissa had decided to get up and come a bit early with us, I woke up to her knocking on our door at about the time we were supposed to be leaving in the taxi. Luckily we had packed the night before and managed to get downstairs less than 10 minutes late! The only downsides are that we lost the student rate on the taxi for being late and didn’t get to do the paper work to get our tax money back. At the airport we traded Marissa for Jocelyn who had also been in Ireland, going back to France and regretfully, sleepily, left Ireland.

Our trio!

Our trio!

Emily

Laundry Day and Pasta sans Neil Patrick Harris

This is the part where my serious film turns more lighthearted and family friendly. I have a great desire to share with you the event that is laundry day. It is significant enough that when I went back to proof read this blog, I realized I had capitalized laundry and laundry mat every time…

First, watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDD-SP2iaa8 Why? It’s awesome. Also it will help you appreciate the reference I’m making with the title.

dr horrible 0410

So in September our host mom did laundry for us. When October came we put it off as long as possible. You would. The recommended laundry mat is in town. About a 5 minute walk from the tram or 10 minutes from school. So minimum of 40 minutes from home which means we have to carry ALL our clothes to school on the tram.

Carina on the tram with all of her dirty laundry.

Carina on the tram with all of her dirty laundry.

Plus, to save money, I planned on hang drying my clothes so I couldn’t do it on a break between classes; it had to be after class before I was going home for the day.
So the first day I brought my clothes to wash, I left them in the office during the day. Little did I know that when I was done with class, the office would be locked up for the night. And so would my clothes.

So I went home, hoping I had something to wear the next day. The following day I took my clothes to class with me, I couldn’t afford risking getting them locked in again. While talking with my director, she found a laundry mat in Avrille (my town). Great news! So I carried my laundry home. I got off the tram and began walking down the street with the address in my hand. I couldn’t find it so I walked back up the other side. I eventually asked and got directions. And walked back down the street a bit further. By this time, my roommate had joined me and we realized that the walk was really long. Really really long. So we turned around AGAIN! I still needed groceries for dinner. So, carrying all my dirty clothes we walked to the grocery store where my bag of laundry filled up the whole cart. Eventually, we were headed home arms full and throbbing. It was miserable. And I, yet again, was forced to scrounge an outfit.
The next day, I took my laundry back into town and finally accomplished my goal.
I don’t have a lot of experience with laundry mats in general, and as you can imagine it didn’t go smoothly by any means. But rather than describing that particular experience, I’ll just provide some general details.
1) The instructions are in French. What average student just has the necessary doing laundry vocab stored away?
2) Ok well any other struggles stemmed from number 1. But learning how to use the soap and paying and what order to do things like paying, closing the door, adding soap, etc was harder than it should have been. It’s enough of a hassle to figure out how you want to split up loads. Especially when each one costs 4 Euros and makes you wait 25 minutes.

Maddy, paying for 1 machine, in all coins. It's a fantastic way to lighten your wallet!

Maddy, paying for 1 machine, in all coins. It’s a fantastic way to lighten your wallet!

Anyway, enough on that. It got easier. It still is annoying and I won’t deny that I bought more socks to put off doing laundry but it’s not all struggle! There is a mini grocery store kiddy corner (it’s called Diagonal hehe) from the laundry mat or a bakery next door to get food while we wait. It also suffices as homework time. OR meeting interesting characters and if not meeting, amusing them with out loud, English confusion.
For example, we met a student, who is from Kenya, but lives in England now and is studying in France. I got to have quite a long conversation with her about our studies and experiences.
On another occasion, Maddy got to the laundry mat before me. When I walked in, the first thing she said was “Emily, I made a friend!” and I was promptly introduced to a nice French man on his way out.
Finally, and possibly my favorite was someone we didn’t actually meet. He was sitting in the corner, reading his book and minding his own business when Tornado Emily and Hurricane Maddy came in.
We, as usual struggled through the process of starting our laundry, animatedly speaking English and making really dumb mistakes. Several times I caught him watching us instead of reading and I saw his grin following our describing ourselves as “stupide Americaines!”. Perhaps the final straw was Maddy’s less then discrete burp causing our not-friend to put his book down and suppress laughing out loud. He then shook his head and went back to reading. By the end of the afternoon I almost felt an acquaintanceship forming with the mysterious book smirker.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I’ve made a somewhat recent discovery. I’ve been curious about a noise I’ve been hearing since arrival and pondering its meaning for a good long time. I first heard it coming from a respectable young woman during a meal at home. It was basically just a single grunt coming from the back of her throat. What was weird, is that this was happing during the meal. I thought she was slightly strange for making such noises while eating but I hadn’t been here long enough to understand the norms.
I heard the same sound several other times after this and could never figure out the context. Until one day it was finally clear! Their short, fairly quiet grunt is the noise that means “uh-huh” or “mhmm”, which explains why when I respond with mhm the French person with whom I’m conversing, continues to look at me expectantly.
What’s more, I needed to share my revelation with someone and the most convenient opportunity was explaining to my roommate on the tram ride home. I don’t think I need to say much more. Just picture me animatedly telling my story that can only be fully described with a lot of mmnghts (it’s a really short noise that I have no idea how to spell, so I just threw in a bunch of consonants) mhmms and uh-huhs. Then imagine the faces of the people around us watching and listening and likely not completely understanding.

*LATER*
So, I had to ask and find out. I took a poll and asked some French people how to spell the noise described above. After some explaining I got my point across. Here was the response:
According to a girl in her 20s: Hum
According to a 17 year old boy: hm
Most seem to agree with “hm” but you can’t pronounce it the way we would read that. Keep in mind that the way the French spell “yum” is “miam” and they spell “wow” as “ouah”.

My final observation for this post is that all French people have the same handwriting. Ok so I’m exaggerating and generalizing, but it’s really interesting how similar their handwriting is (for example from professor to professor) compared to the variety I see at home. I mentioned before that their cursive letters or some print letters and numbers are different from the American way but it is also interesting how uniform the letters seem to be.

Alright, while I’m at it, I may as well add one more pointless topic. Pasta to go. That’s right, amazing delicious, filling, FRESH pasta in a box. These stands will be the end of my figure and my bank account (as if pastries and baguettes weren’t bad enough). They basically offer all of the same benefits as a fast food restaurant, except it tastes way better than fast food and I’m pretending it’s healthier. They even have buy 10 get one “offert” (free) like coffee stands! There are two of these that we frequent and one more has just been discovered.

This is the pasta stand closer to school and that has better seating and cost 20 cents less!

This is the pasta stand closer to school and that has better seating and cost 20 cents less!

Unfortunately, they are different companies so I have two running pasta tally cards. However a box of “4 Fromage” costs 5 euro and means I don’t have to make my own food so filling that card probably won’t be too much effort.

This is not exactly what it looks like when I get it, but I'm using google images for  Mezzo di Pasta right now because I don't have my own pictures.

This is not exactly what it looks like when I get it, but I’m using google images for Mezzo di Pasta right now because I don’t have my own pictures.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but it is relevant enough to risk repeating myself. I think that if we were to get a pasta stand such as these in Monmouth, or really just in any college town, well any town at all in America, it would be a hit. A booming success. Maybe such things exist already, in some places but I wouldn’t mind there being a few more. Actually, I should not have just suggested this to the entire internet because I believe one could make quite a profit. I’m no business major, but I can think of many reasons why a pasta stand would last at home. Especially one down the street from a laundry mat.

Just pretend they are eating pasta.

Just pretend they are eating pasta.

Ooh Say Can You See!

Election Results Announced!

I wish there was some way I could record the feeling of suspense and apprehension that hung in the air, filling our days and conversation once back in Angers, back to regular media access and surrounded by other politically motivated students. If there hadn’t been so much on the line, it would have been almost fun. Sort of how one can get way too absorbed in hoping their favorite contestant will win a reality TV show. There was a bit of excitement in deciphering the French newspaper each day and hunting for the article about the happenings at home.

Front of the news paper (not sure of the date)

Statistics

The biased paper, I might add. It was a difficult process to vote “absentee” but so worth it. It was my first presidential election and a bit to my surprise I was filled with pride when the French asked me who I voted for and had a look of relief and satisfaction when I told them. As I mentioned previously, it was the second question I was directly asked by my host parents on day one only following an inquiry about my relationship status.
Each day closer to the election the tension rose. My fellow Americans and I were warned that if things didn’t go the way desired, to be prepared for a potential backlash from the French. Our host parents asked us each day “Are you nervous?” Meanwhile, I’d done what I could and occupied myself learning more about the French government and comparing it to my own. Facebook was blowing up with dramatic threats of action if things didn’t go the way people preferred and those were followed by grouchy posts about how everyone was posting about politics. And so the paradox continued while I, amused, mostly refrained from participation.
Being 9 hours ahead, the time of the announcement was rather inconvenient. Many stayed up and refreshed their internet browsers every hour, or set an alarm for approximately the right time to see results. I however crossed my fingers and went to bed. When I woke up I was greeted with a post on my Facebook wall from my best friend telling me I could contentedly and proudly return to the United States. I could come home. Not only that but I was able to hold my head high in my current country of residence, hosting what may have been one of the most relieved groups of people on the planet. It was a special feeling breaking the news to my host parents and international friends and watching their reactions was priceless. What’s more, in the paper that day there was the headline “Mariage pour tous” (marriage for all) as François Hollande, the president of France presented the bill that gay couples can get married and adopt children.

“Mariage pour tous”

I am living through and witnessing positive progressive change and that’s a good feeling. I was slightly taken aback by the warmness that filled me that Wednesday and found that nothing could really bring me down. My smile wasn’t plastered on but those muscles did get tired.
To celebrate, my roommates and I enjoyed a bottle of champagne and the cookies provided by our host parents. We cheers-ed and chattered light heartedly as the anxiety of the previous few days melted away with the sweet white bubbles. By the end of the evening we’d sung the National Anthem (while our host dad hid around the corner to listen) and argued over the lyrics to America the Beautiful.

My roommate Maddy and our cups!

Dawn of the next day came with less tangible side effects of the news but our spirits still soared. I bought two newspapers whose covers hosted the face of our president as keepsakes and what would someday be fun historical evidence. That evening, I had the opportunity to speak on a local French radio station and be interviewed about the election. My classmate and I sat in the official studio wondering how in the world we’d not only get our thoughts together on such issues but express them in French. For most of the hour I let Maddie do the talking. As far as the topics covered we are more or less on the same page and her French is very good. I only chimed in to voice that I agreed or when there was a state specific question (because she comes from California). I’d like to take this opportunity to publically say, despite any insecurity, she did a very good job!

Maddie and the DJ

My world view is changing. I don’t think I’ll get used to opening Google Maps and having France be in the center of my screen instead of Oregon but my natural ethnocentric tendencies are subsiding more. I’m seeing better now than I have in any school class how my home country fits in the world. I’m witnessing its influence in other countries at the same time I’m seeing their own cultural pride still shining brighter. I’ve become more patriotic than ever before and at the same time more interested in learning about and experiencing other cultures than ever before. I suppose this is what “they” were saying would happen on a study abroad trip.

My souvenirs! Not sure why it posted sideways. I cant fix it.

I missed almost all of the summer 2012 Olympic Games because I had limited access to a television, which made me a little sad. But then I remind myself that instead of watching other people interact internationally, I was in flesh and blood getting to sit around a table of at least 5 different nationalities discussing culture or discovering how these mysterious people that come from other places and backgrounds are just like me. We shared a love of dance and in our tights and leotards in the same class we were almost stripped of our varying backgrounds…no, that’s not it. We were all bringing our different lives together to realize that when it came down to it we are not that much different from one another. So similar, yet with endless amounts to learn from each other.

There was also the Colorado Shooting, of which I heard about through a Finnish dancer before I heard from home. It was nice to have two other Americans around to debrief with afterward but it was even nicer to have people from all over with whom we could have deep conversation following the news. I learned about historical events and the population’s reaction to such occurrences that were similar to the Colorado Shooting in other countries.

And finally the storm and Hurricane Sandy. Experiencing this from abroad almost made it feel more real than being home but on the opposite coast. I’m not sure how to explain why. We watched French news reporters talk about what was going on at “home” and New York felt a lot more like “home” than if would have had I actually been home. It was heartwarming that whenever there was more news, if someone knew we were American, they asked with concern about our families and wanted to know if we knew people that lived in the path.

Normandy

Flag outside of the Museum

On Saturday the 10th, we had an excursion to Normandy. It was well timed in that patriotic period. We got up at 5am to start this long emotional day. The first stop was a World War II museum. There were a lot of people, a lot of things to read and look at, and as usual, not a lot of time. I was frustrated with having been rushed through the museum and then having an extra half hour of time after lunch with access only to the gift store. Looking back, I should have gone quicker through the first two world wars and the holocaust sections since I’ve studied those a lot and focused more on the D-Day rooms to prepare for the rest of the day.
The second stop was the American Cemetery and Memorial. Being America, this was a really moving place to visit. On the way, on the bus, one of my professors jabbered at us about things he felt to be culturally and regionally significant. Such as (bet you can guess) …cheese and, naturally, the cows that produce the cheese. I guess cows are really important in Normandy and “The most beautiful cows”. Most people blocked him out, put in their headphones and napped. I took this as a chance to practice listening comprehension since the quality of the bus mic was not ideal. However, I became a lot more distracted with things out the window and zoned out a bit. Until we arrived. And we came around the corner to see the beaches themselves and the rows and rows and rows and rows of graves.
Actually, a friend of mine in the AHA program wrote an excellent blog about her experience here and instead of re-describing the impact of the cemetery, I’m going to include an excerpt of her writing (in quotes) with my interjections.
“When we arrived at the memorial, the first thing we saw was the beach. There’s a wall up, keeping visitors from entering, and a plan of the attacks, allowing visitors to get a general idea of what happened, and how vast the attacks really were.” I appreciated this. “We followed a path overlooking the beach, still laughing and chatting.” At this point, I was still really appreciating the beauty of the coast line. “We turned a corner, and a hush fell over our group. A picture can’t capture how vast it is. The graves are identical to those at Arlington, and they go on for ages.” –Rebekah Coble. This is the moment I looked back at the, still beautiful, but now sickening beaches. I briefly flashbacked to the film we’d seen in the museum with footage from the beaches. Those very beaches. My friend’s description of a hush falling is well put. I think we all had slight stomach aches.

The graves went on and on.

There was a memorial at one end of the cemetery that played the American National Anthem, which touched several students.

From a distance.

In the middle; there was a little round chapel.

Chapel

Then finally on the far end, two statues overlooking the grounds.

Looking toward the far end. Chapel behind me, graves on both sides.

Getting close enough to the graves you could read the home state of each fallen soldier and I was careful to walk at the foot of each grave.

Can’t find the picture of the Oregon. But this one is nice.

Picking my way delicately through the graves and seeing “Oregon” on several crosses became too much and I went back to the path and marveled a bit longer at the beaches.

The bus took us to Omaha Beach where we had 20 minutes to go stand on the famous land. I, feeling sentimental, drew a picture of a peace sign by the waves and collected some sand to take with me.

Beaches are powerful to me in general and good places for contemplation. I appreciated that the weather was nice because had it been gloomy as forecasted, my mood would have struggled a bit more.

Much like the day I went to Dachau, as if my emotions hadn’t had enough the end of the day was the most powerful. The final stop was La Pointe du Hoc. What struck me was how little this site has been changed. I knew it was a difficult place to attack and had been a site of struggle, but getting there and seeing the cliffs the soldiers climbed was really impactful.

What’s more, the humongous ditches and bomb shaped craters from attack remained, full of mud and slightly grassy, but terrifying man made dents in the dirt nonetheless.

These are really hard to photograph.

We were there until the beautiful sunset.

The dismal crumbling bunkers remained as well. It was horrifying to go inside and think about their original uses. In my friend’s blog, she talked about hiding in the bunkers in the rain storm and the impact that had. “While we were wandering around, it started raining, so we went into a bunker to seek shelter. That was the worst thing I did all day. It was only raining, and the bunker was small, cramped, dark and dank. With our phone lights, we were still tripping over things and running into each other. It was terrible. Then I realized that soldiers had been there, not only when it was dark and cramped, but in the midst of a war. That was the most powerful realization for me.” – Rebekah Coble. I enjoyed reading how she spent the rain storm because I had a different experience having chosen to stand out in the rain, getting soaked and watching the water.

Down inside is where Bekah stood and up on the railing over looking the Ocean is where I stood.

My view

The visit was concluded with a full and double rainbow.
It was beautiful…..

For a good length of time, we could see both ends and most of the arc of the rainbow

…and hopeful!

Bekah and I
Photo credit – fellow student, Dylan

This well timed excursion was meaningful to say the least. I was grateful to be among other Americans on the visit and to see firsthand such a significant historical site. Finally, as Bekah put it, “It was truly a naturally beautiful place, but devastatingly so.”.


-Photo credit for this and a few others, Maddy (thanks for sharing your camera and photos after my battery died!)

Emily

« Pas de Bus »

Saturday afternoon I surprised myself by actually enjoying some alone time with French music in the local Musee de Beaux-Arts. Check.

The views out the window were as beautiful as the art work

Sunday was another “check” because I got up and went to mass with my host mom. I expected the Cathedral with the big organ, but turned out we were just going to the local church, which was fine, though I’d still like to hear the Organ. This was a step out of my comfort zone. I don’t fully understand a Catholic Mass even in English so change it to French and I’m totally lost. However, despite my confusion  I left like I was experiencing an important part of culture and history and I spend a good deal of time spacing out reflecting on that because translating is exhausting.

Monday was not as expected either. I woke up with two red eyes and in a lot of pain. Ended up missing two hours of class to go to the eye doctor where they tested my pronunciation of the French alphabet as well as my eye sight. Turned out I had scratched my corneas and was to use these burning eye drops for three days. Tuesday I was practically blind and after suffering through 3 hours of class with 1 eye half open. I apologized “pour les cascades de mes yeux” and my waterfalls and I went home to sleep, via the pharmacy.

Wednesday I was feeling a bit better, which was essential because after school Carina and I left for Nantes, where we went to bed at 9 pm.

Our little hotel room that we only saw in the dark!

4am came quickly but our journey to Corsica was smooth, aside from hungrily waiting in the airport for two hours for the 9 euro bus to town.

Carina on our bench, thinking more about her empty tummy than her homework!

Life stayed interesting when we arrived in Bastia.
And because of the following events, I couldn’t decided which title to use.
« Pas de Bus » (No Bus)
« Toussaint » (All Saints)
« C’est Fermée » (It’s Closed)
P.S. Those funny marks are French quotation marks

Its Toussaint (a holiday). Of course! Why didn’t we realize…everything is closed today. That means no buses nor grocery stores. Ok, so 7.50 euro for a slice of pizza, a coke and a chocolate waffle thing.

I had already eaten the pizza.

That’ll tie me over. But we can’t walk over a mountain with our stuff for 25 kilometers without a map. That leaves a taxi. Alright, locate taxi. “Bonjour Monsieur, combien coute…” More than 67 euro. Oh. That’s a pair of shoes. Or two. Just kidding sir, have a nice day. Now we more than seriously considered the inconsiderable. We didn’t tell any loved ones what we’d decided, just stuck out our thumbs and smiled.

It started out pretty awkward but turned out kind of fun…

People waved or sympathetically smiled but no one stopped. Ok, change location. Here in our new spot, we made a sign with the name of our destination. A nice man with a bike on his car pulled over to tell us we were in the wrong area to go that direction and helped us know where to go. We chatted with a couple from Quebec who were traveling around and gave us hitchhiking advice. So we changed location again. Impatiently, I announced that I was giving up hope and taking the taxi in 10 minutes. Just then, a (non-sketchy) woman pulled over. RIDE! “We’re actually doing this!” shouted my internal dialogue. Our driver was wonderful; she told us Corsican info and wouldn’t accept money.

She even pulled over at this memorial with a great view for us to read some history and take pictures!

We found our hotel easily…

Hotel, resort thing.

and only worried for a moment because the only one there to greet us for check in was a large green praying mantis.

Once 3pm struck we got in and then returned to the mostly closed town seeking dinner.

There were more boats than tourists!

We got to wander a bit and sort of found bread, cheese and wine, which would do for dinner. So we turned in early for the evening.

Corsica is known for good rose and red wine according to our driver.

While it is known for a lot of things, public transportation is not one of those things. Our questions of “what is there to do around here” were always greeted with “do you have a car?”, “No”. “……..uh-oh”.

So, the following day involved a lot of walking, a lot of beautiful views and a lot of going the wrong direction. We were never really lost, we had a map. A simple map. That we were confidently following. But we managed to follow it wrong multiple times. The consequences were not particularly upsetting and we were not the only ones confused. Perks included finding a kitty,

That really appreciated our attention

finding a place to kayak the next day and finding a building in ruins.

View from the wrong road. Not too much of a loss.

Finally, we found the correct trail but having taken longer than planned to get there, we stopped at a beautiful view and put our feet in the water.

View on the way down the correct trail!

We had to take shoes off to get out to those rocks but the water wasn’t cold and it was fun to climb around!

The evening held homemade soup followed by showers and a ton of the best chocolate ice-cream I can remember consuming.

Our only plans for the next day were Kayaking. (There was nothing else we could do within walking distance in November). We got up and went into town to explore a bit and wait for it to warm up. On our way into town we heard gunfire that went past Carina. Then a man in uniform (with a gun) asked us if we’d seen his dog. Nope. Walking on, we came across fresh footprints in mud, then fresh poop, then barking. Found the dog! Stellar detectives we are (the day before we had found a back pack and spent some time pondering that mystery too). Continuing, we accidentally found the church and fort we were planning on looking for. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside so we decided to head to the boat place.

I got to hug a palm tree. One of my goals of the vacation!

Once afloat in our double, salt water kayak, it was just us, the view and some interesting birds. We made it a decent distance in a hour and a half. All the way to the previous day’s original destination, a half an old tower.

Voila!

The hike was supposed to take 3.5 hours but on a boat, short cuts (when the waves cooperate) were quick. The way back started out fierce paddling and loud singing to keep us going. Once we got closer and the wind wasn’t in our faces we got to just drift a bit and chat.
Back on shore we had a chance to thaw out in the shower and went to watch some locals play bocce ball. Dinner was filling pasta and pesto!

or “Boule” in French

The day of our return trip started out grim. While checking out we were informed the only way to get back was by taxi. “Duh, it’s a bank holiday, there are no buses on Sundays!” (is what it seemed like we were being told). A taxi would cost 85 euro. EURO. That’s $109.02! Depressed we headed toward town. Knowing our luck had run out, we made a sign for “Bastia S.V.P.” and walked with our thumbs out. Less than an hour later a car pulled over. A nice woman, her husband and granddaughter accepted us into their car. Enthused that it worked a second time we thanked them profusely and were on our way! The ride was fun. The woman used to teach French but now the two live in Paris and have visited the states several times. We even got to help Alex – their granddaughter- speak English. To kill time in Bastia before the airport shuttle, we wandered around a huge yard sale-market-bizarre thing and had a snack. I resisted buying Pirates of the Caribbean in French while on an island known for pirate history.

A view we came across while wandering around town before kayaking on day 2.

Saying goodbye to Corsica and le vacances, we journeyed home to finish homework. Home, to where our reliable tram was waiting to take us across town for free. :)

Emily

Words with Friends

I don’t think I’ve ever actually played that game. I’m no good at scrabble. But I thought it was a fitting title!

Part 1: Learning French or Learning English?

The bridge we cross everyday on the tram.

On Friday I went into town excited for a more advanced ballet class than normal and…surprise! There was a pointe class as well! I was glad I had brought my shoes and that painful half hour was a good reminder not to go more than a month without doing releves en pointe.
Immediately after, I went to the ice-rink and had a great night of basically prom on ice. There were disco lights, loud music and dance circles included! This was a wonderful exposure to French culture and also led to a reflection on my own culture and language…

English is weird. Lost in Translation: We tried explaining “So” and its several different uses to a French man who doesn’t speak English. What a bizarre word.
If you know French, this is what we came up with: so = alors/donc and so = trés and so = comme ça.
Once returning home, I promptly looked up the “actual” definition of “so”.

Speaking of English…and in English…I find it interesting how no matter what the background noise, I can pick out my native language from even long distances away. Sort of like the way you can hear your name in a crowded room or you notice when someone isn’t speaking English walking down the street. It doesn’t matter what accent, dialect or anything of English it is, my ears will still perk up and I have to find the source. It is a comforting and familiar feeling to hear my mother tongue in a sea of Française.

I tend to not filter before I begin speaking in French, which, since I’m trying to learn the language can be good because I don’t avoid telling stories and things I don’t know how to say, but at the same time gets me into awkward situations in which I am just floundering for words and the moment gets lost. I usually just begin talking or telling a story before I realize that I have no idea how to explain nor the vocabulary to support my point.

While I’m on this topic, I may as well mention that this trip isn’t quite what I expected in terms of the amount of English I still speak on a daily basis. At first I was really worried that I was going to have a roommate and I’d be tempted to speak English too often. Then when I arrived, I was beyond relieved to have someone else who could help me learn and communicate or understand around the house. We’ve become a good team. It was (and still is) also wonderful to have a site director that speaks both languages and can answer all my questions and solve my problems. It’s especially nice after a long day of class, such as in September when it was a lot more draining, to have a place to go to be surrounded by a familiar lingo. However, as I’ve progressed and can more or less fend for myself, I wish I didn’t speak so much English. I still have to put in a serious effort to speak French even while living in France and it is a little frustrating. It takes extra time and effort to avoid English and fully immerse in French while living in France so I’m worried that I’ll lose it when I go home.

However, I’ve realized an appreciation for my mother tongue like never before. It’s actually pretty cool to master a language, and make jokes and puns and rhymes. Or use big words and slang.

Part 2: Quotidian
Quotidian is a fun French word that roughly translates to something along the lines of “Daily”. So this section is my daily culture lesson.

Saturday didn’t go as planned because the two hours I’d set aside for touring our local museum were the two hours it was closed for lunch break. So instead, I bought socks (honestly to put off doing laundry a bit longer) and watched the weekly excitement in the square. I believe it had something to do with rights this week…

The band was good! I got bisoued as we like to say by a band member. Its a franglish word for the french greeting of two kisses.

Lazy Sundayz
My roommates and I didn’t even leave the house this Sunday. We had a lazy homework day. We felt a little guilty but those days are good sometimes. Plus, since I had finished my homework I ended up being able to skype home! This week was the first time I’d used skype since coming to Europe and in one evening, I spontaneously talked to 3 friends, my whole family and my cat!

This is what Sunday evening often looks like. Homework, Skype, some facebook and youtube, And mostly just not studying till late at night because we get distracted by roommie bonding!

Look Both Ways
One of the weird things around here is cross walks. There are crossing lights that change regularly, but no one seems to pay much attention. Contrary to Austria (where there is a huge fine for crossing on red) the French just cross when clear and cars just go. Usually it’s safer to go on red. Monday, I began to walk on a green light in the cross walk and was almost taken out by a large truck.

Crosswalk sign from Google images. I’m not sure where my picture is.

Joyeuse Anniversaire
Tuesday was my (real) mom’s birthday. Tuesday was also my host dad’s birthday! For my mom, my friends and I made a video that included “Happy Birthday” in about 8 languages. For my host dad, we brought him wine and had a slightly fancier than normal dinner!

Parlez-vous française?
Homework is picking up and we got to meet our conversation partners on Wednesday evening!  These are French students that want to practice English and help us with French. We are assigned to people but the first meeting was all of us together to avoid awkward silence. My partners are two 18 year old girls and they don’t speak a ton of English. So far we don’t know each other very well but I hope to hang out son. In the mean time, Carina and I met a young woman wanting to practice English that we’ve met with twice in a café. She offered to help us with homework when possible. It’s really hard to not use English. It’s hard to meet people when you only have basic conversation skills and a whole group of Americans around all the time.

Four Day Weekend
After many dead ends, we finally made plans for Toussaint! With the help of site director Sue or rather our travel agent Sue, we planned our trip to Corsica! One day in high school French class we watched a presentation about a mysterious beautiful Island off the coast of France. Corsica is a popular vacation spot and I assumed I’d never get to go there. So I tried my best to ignore the trip packages and forget about this surreal place. Thursday the 25th of October, I bought plane tickets to go there. Real life.

Flannel
Friday morning as I got dressed I was stressing slightly that my Oregonian-ness was showing too much because I was wearing a flannel button-up shirt.  When I got downstairs I got more worried because my host mom (who wears wedges to leave the house) asked me if I was going to wear “that” to school. I guess I was right. I was her if it wasn’t European enough and she hurriedly explained “Non, non! C’est jolie! Pas trop Americaine!”. Turns out she was just worried I’d be too cold.

Finally,I bought Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers and have been attempting to read it. I figured reading a book I know and love in French would help make it easier to get through, but as it turns out, I’m finding that I get board because I know too well what is going to happen and so I don’t actually need to translate the French.

The cover!

C’est tout!
Bisous

 

HOWTAGH

The inevitable blog about homesickness –for lack of a better term.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long without seeing my little sister since she was born!

I’m hoping that in the time it takes me to write this all out, a new term will have come to mind that describes the feeling better than “homesickness”.
Basically, if you ask me if I’m homesick, I’ll say no.  If you ask me if I have been at all, I’ll probably say “yeah, I guess a little every once in awhile”. But it’s not that easy to describe.  I will attempt to show you what I mean with a series of scenarios:
1. Once in awhile something will remind me of home. And I’ll have a slight pang of longing for that something.  Then it will go away and I’ll be on my merry way.
2. Something will pose an irritating challenge (such as not being able to find free water or the microscopic size of coffee that doesn’t come with chocolate) that make me miss the way some things are in the States.

This is a pretty decent sized cup for France.

3. I’ll talk to a friend on Facebook and miss them specifically.
4. I’ll see events or exciting things going on at school from e-mails or Facebook and I’ll miss the WOU community.
5. Hard day, need a hug from family.
6. Start thinking about classes I’ll be taking or where I’ll be living when I get back and get really excited to be back.
7. As well as the excitement of reuniting with people and catching up.
8. And the excitement of experiencing the States and home and everything as a new person, who has changed and learned and experienced so much in the last few months. There are some things I’ll never look at the same.

But then I remember once I leave here I may very well never be coming back. And I imagine that when I get home, I will miss it here and my new friends far more than I miss home right now, because I don’t have a return ticket to Europe. I try to avoid the time that I spend looking forward to being home because I know once I’m there, I’ll just want to come back.

Basically, all of these fleeting moments combined, just make me wish I could combine to two lives and two places and have a perfect, made up, best of both worlds. Don’t we all imagine “the perfect world”?

So let me explain the title. This originated because I couldn’t think of the right word and in the process, ended up coming up with some acronyms. The one that seemed to best describe the feeling was
HSWOAWTGHRN-HomeSick WithOut Actually Wanting To Go Home Right Now…Or just
HWWTGH – Homesick Without Wanting To Go Home. But that has no vowels and there for is way harder to say. So I did some revising and settled on,
HOWTAGH – Homesick (with)Out Wanting To Already Go Home. I know it’s a stretch but try saying it out loud while imagining feeling the way I described above. It’ll do.
Feel free to send me better ideas!

Angers at night.

Emily